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State v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Utah

September 28, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Bill Robert Thompson, Appellant.

         Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable L. Douglas Hogan No. 141400758

          Teresa L. Welch, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Christopher D. Ballard, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Diana Hagen concurred. [1]

          TOOMEY, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Bill Robert Thompson was intoxicated and enraged when he assaulted and threatened people at his house, then got behind the wheel of his full-sized pickup truck and sped away. He eventually ran a red light, hitting seven other vehicles, injuring several people and killing another. He was convicted of a number of crimes and appeals some of those convictions on two grounds: first, he contends that the trial court erred in permitting the introduction of what he characterizes as irrelevant and prejudicial evidence against him, and second, he argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for first degree murder.[2] We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Thompson was sound asleep in bed early one evening when his wife (Wife) wakened him by spraying water on him.[3]Wife was distressed after discovering "inappropriate" and "extremely flirty" text messages on Thompson's phone. And because she found vomit on the bedsheets, she suspected that he had been drinking alcohol. Initially, she attempted to waken Thompson by shaking him but resorted to spraying him with water when he remained unresponsive.

         ¶3 Thompson woke up angry and agitated. The couple argued about the text messages, then quarreled about Thompson's alcohol consumption. As the argument continued, a friend (Friend) who was staying with them emerged from the basement and saw Wife holding the couple's three-year-old son (Son). Wife told Friend that Thompson had "been drinking" and was "drunk again." Wife put down Son, and Friend picked him up as Thompson chased Wife around the kitchen table. Thompson pointed at Friend, looked at Wife, and said, "You don't think I'll fucking hit her?" Thompson then "smacked" Friend and "bloodied [her] nose." He hit her head "four or five times" as she continued to hold Son.

         ¶4 Wife ran out of the house, and Thompson chased her. Friend also raced outside, still carrying Son, and was attempting to get to a neighbor's house when Thompson grabbed her arm and spun her around, causing her to fall to the ground. As Friend shielded Son's head, Thompson repeatedly hit her head until she broke free and ran toward a neighbor's house.

         ¶5 As Friend fled, a man, J.P., approached Thompson to inquire about what had happened.[4] Thompson directed his attention toward J.P., "angrily shouting" at him and repeatedly yelling, "[W]ho are you?" He pushed J.P. and punched him in the face, prompting J.P. to wrestle Thompson to the ground. As the men struggled, Thompson called J.P. names and threatened him: "[Y]ou're a little bitch, you're a little bitch, and I'm going to kick your ass, you little bitch." J.P. smelled alcohol on Thompson, and Thompson's speech was slurred. Several neighbors eventually intervened to separate them. One of the neighbors called 911, and Thompson told her, "Snitches get stitches you fucking pu[ta]."

         ¶6 Thompson returned to his own house and got into his truck, saying to the neighbors, "You're going to fucking die." Thompson drove away at high speed, "fishtailing" the truck, making its tires squeal, and sending "black smoke" pouring out of the exhaust pipe as he accelerated down the street. On his way out of the neighborhood, Thompson noticed a stop sign and at the last second "slammed on the brakes, " and then continued on.

         ¶7 He drove onto the freeway, where he encountered two teenage girls, K.R. and S.B., in a small car. They noticed Thompson driving in the emergency lane, avoiding rush-hour traffic. K.R. and S.B. exited the freeway, lost their way, and then found themselves on a frontage road traveling behind Thompson's truck. K.R., who was at the wheel, thought Thompson was intoxicated because his driving was "kind of crazy" and his speed varied. S.B. observed the truck "drift into" oncoming traffic, causing an oncoming car to swerve out of the way, and nearly hitting another.

         ¶8 Still following Thompson's truck on the frontage road, the teenagers reached a dead end with a cul-de-sac that allowed vehicles to turn around. K.R. pulled to the side of the road while Thompson maneuvered his truck. He turned it toward the girls' car, which had suddenly stalled. They called 911 as Thompson and his truck accelerated in their direction, then slowed and "bumped" their car, leaving "a couple of little dents." Thompson backed up, then hit the car again, "laughing in amusement, " before he sped away "recklessly and fast." Moments later, the girls heard a loud crashing noise. Shortly thereafter, K.R.'s parents picked them up, and as they drove by the intersection of 12300 South and Lone Peak Parkway, the girls observed a multi-car accident and saw Thompson's truck in the wreckage.

         ¶9 After Thompson left the cul-de-sac, he continued to drive erratically and "really fast, " and he was "increasing his speed." Moments later, Thompson negotiated a nearly 90-degree curve in the road at freeway speed and headed toward a busy intersection. As Thompson approached the intersection at 12300 South and Lone Peak Parkway, he continued to accelerate despite having a red light in his direction.

         ¶10 Video footage from a nearby gas station showed that the traffic light had been red for 29 seconds before Thompson's truck went through the intersection, and another 78 seconds elapsed before it turned green. An inspection of the airbag control modules from Thompson's truck, which convey information about the truck's "throttle, RPM, brake switch, [and] accelerator pedal, " revealed that the gas pedal had been "pushed as far to the floor as possible" when the truck entered the intersection. It was traveling 68 miles per hour "2.5 seconds prior to the crash, " then 63 miles per hour two seconds before the crash, and then slowed to 62 miles per hour at .5 seconds before the crash. But during the half second before impact, Thompson slightly increased speed to 62.78 miles per hour. Thompson never touched the brakes in the seconds before the collision, and he did not attempt any evasive maneuvers.

         ¶11 As Thompson ran the red light, his 7, 500-pound truck, with its "lifted suspension, " crashed into the driver's side door of the victim's (Victim) car, sending Victim's car "flying through the air, " hitting the top of the vehicle next to it as it soared over.[5]Victim's car landed on its wheels and "backed into a pole at the corner of the intersection." The driver's side of Victim's car "looked like it was gone, " and the car "looked like half a car." The truck penetrated roughly half-way through Victim's car, leaving Victim unconscious and mortally injured[6] and her daughter seriously injured.[7] The force of the impact separated Victim's skull from her vertebral column, severing her brain stem. The impact also tore her aorta from her heart, fractured most of her ribs, lacerated her diaphragm, liver, spleen, left kidney, and large intestine, and punctured her lungs.

         ¶12 A police officer who happened to be on the scene at the time of the crash noticed that Thompson was "bleeding pretty heavily from his head" and "wasn't breathing correctly." Another officer testified Thompson had "watery, red" eyes, dilated pupils, slurred speech, and a dazed look. A paramedic and an emergency medical technician, who attended to Thompson after the crash, testified that in response to their questions, Thompson repeatedly responded, "[F]uck you" and raised his middle finger. He attempted to grab at the paramedics as they started an intravenous line, put him on oxygen, and attached a cardiac monitor. His belligerence, anger, and combativeness initially made the paramedics consider whether he had a head injury, but ultimately they concluded that he was drunk.

         ¶13 Blood drawn from Thompson later that evening showed a blood alcohol content of .22 grams per 100 milliliters. The lab test also showed an "indication" of chlordiazepoxide, an anti-anxiety drug with a sedative effect that can amplify the effect of alcohol, but its presence was never confirmed.

         ¶14 Thompson was charged with a number of crimes, and eventually the case proceeded to a jury trial. During trial and over Thompson's objection, evidence was introduced of the content of a text message conversation between Thompson and a woman (Woman) who was not his wife. These were transmitted over a 90-minute period on the day of the crash, ending approximately two hours before Wife confronted Thompson.

Thompson: U alive (2:30 pm)
[Woman]: Haha. Yup (2:32 pm)
Thompson: Wanna be naked (2:32 pm)
[Woman]: Want me to be? Oh wait, yours was not a question. (2:41 pm)
Thompson: Last time was pretty awesome (2:41 pm)
[Woman] YOU want to be naked. Lol[.] Was I naked?? (2:42 pm)
Thompson: You had just got done with girl's best friend (2:43 pm)
[Woman] Really?? Wow (2:45 pm)
Thompson: Don't be afraid[.] You think I'm a V tease (2:46 pm)
[Woman] No. No. (2:47 pm)
Thompson: Wanna??? (2:50 pm)
[Woman] I'm driving. So I can't text ...

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